The Los Angeles Police Department of the 1970s and ’80s acted as a hard-charging, occupying force that raided poor neighborhoods and rounded up anyone in sight. Police stormed suspected crack houses, tearing down walls with a tank-like battering ram. Officers of that era were trained to think of themselves as soldiers in a never-ending war on crime, says the Los Angeles Times. Now, the department is using that notorious history as a crucial lesson for its officers. “We were warriors,” Deputy Chief Bill Scott told a room filled with rank-and-file officers, a group of fresh-faced rookies watching from the front. Now, he said, officers need to think of themselves as guardians watching over communities, not warriors cracking down on them. “That means if we’ve got to take somebody to jail, we’ll take them to jail,” Scott said. “But when we need to be empathetic and we need to be human, we’ve got to do that too.”
The message is one the LAPD is drilling into its officers in training that has been rolled out in recent weeks, part of a national movement to change law enforcement as policing tactics are under increased public scrutiny. Departments across the U.S. are taking steps to replacing the warrior mentality with a different approach, one that emphasizes protection over suppression, patience instead of zero tolerance. It’s a fundamental shift, one that could affect issues such as how often officers fire their guns and the way they walk down the street. The five-hour lectures in Los Angeles have covered matters such as the way officers should interact with mentally ill people, how they can build community trust, when they are permitted to curse while dealing with the public and why they should avoid walking with a swagger. Department brass emphasized that public perceptions of police are influenced by the way officers treat residents during their daily work.